Tuesday, 26 June 2012

England: Progression or Regression?

By Aaron Leggott

After Sunday's quarter final defeat at the hands of Italy, something inside got me thinking about the past couple of years since the disastrous few weeks under Fabio Capello in Bloemfontein.

Before that World Cup, England were in great form under Capello. Losing just two friendlies, the Three Lions won their first eight qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, ensuring qualification with two games to spare.

Have things really improved since Germany humiliated us two years ago?
Photo: Tom Jenkins
But the joy was short lived, as a torrid few weeks in South Africa led to elimination in the second round at the hands of the Germans, who inflicted our worst ever defeat in World Cup finals.

It was clear that change was needed throughout the whole organisation, and despite heavy media pressure for Capello to resign, he stood firm and reiterated his desire to see his contract with the National team.

Both Jamie Carragher and Emile Heskey announced their international retirements, and Capello decided to experiment with the side. The introduction of players like Jack Wilshere, James Milner and Theo Walcott was an encouraging sign for fans, as we made a steady start to our EURO 2012 qualifying campaign.

But, there were some suspect results in this period. A poor defeat at home to France to finish off 2010 was one which came to mind in particular, and it proved there was a lot of work to be done if England were to challenge Spain's international dominance.

Qualification for Euro 2012 was finalised in Montenegro, but unfortunately the red card produced to Wayne Rooney in that match meant he was to miss the first two games of our campaign in Poland/Ukraine, a big blow to our chances.

Here is all our results between the World Cup and the current European Championships, to give us a statistical indication of the question asked:

England        2 - 1    Hungary           (Friendly, 11 August 2010)
England        4 - 0    Bulgaria           (Qualifier, 3 September 2010)
Switzerland   1 - 3   England            (Qualifier, 7 September 2010)
England        0 - 0    Montenegro    (Qualifier, 12 October 2010)
England        1 - 2    France             (Friendly, 17 November 2010)
Denmark      1 - 2    England           (Friendly, 9 February 2011)
Wales           0 - 2    England           (Qualifier, 26 March 2011)
England        1 - 1    Ghana             (Friendly, 29 March 2011)
England        2 - 2    Switzerland     (Qualifier, 4 June 2011)
Bulgaria       0 - 3    England           (Qualifier, 2 September 2011)
England        1 - 0    Wales              (Qualifier, 6 September 2011)
Montenegro 2 - 2    England          (Qualifier, 7 October 2011)
England        1 - 0    Spain               (Friendly, 12 November 2011)
England        1 - 0    Sweden           (Friendly, 15 November 2011)
England        2 - 3    Netherlands   (Friendly, 29 February 2012)
Norway        0 - 1    England           (Friendly, 26 May 2012)
England        1 - 0    Belgium          (Friendly, 2 June 2012)

P-17   W-11   D-4    L-2

As you can see, it is a pretty remarkable record, with the stand out result towards the end of 2011 after an impressive victory against the World and European Champions. However, the two defeats were teams who we can say are challengers, and it is quite worrying that we were outplayed in both of them games. 

Capello's reign was not to last beyond the European Championships, as he announced his resignation as the manager this February after John Terry was stripped of the England captaincy because of his alleged racist comments towards QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.

Despite expectation that Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp was to succeed Capello, it was in fact Roy Hodgson who was given the vacant position and he led a depleted England side to Eastern Europe.

The start was encouraging, as Hodgson looked to have set up a solid side, proven in the two friendlies prior to flying out, but the big problem was the attacking side of the team, as we struggled to create lots of chances.

Ashley Young, who was expected to have a pivotal role in the side, rarely produced in the four games, whilst injuries to key players like Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard and Darren Bent ensured it was never going to be an easy start for Hodgson.

Another International failure, but Hodgson
should be kept on
Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images Europe
Unfortunately, we were outplayed in Kiev on Sunday night by the Italian's and despite all the criticism that Mario Balotelli received, he caused more problems going forward than our entire forward line put together.

With only three shots on target, it seemed like Hodgson was content to rely on our poor penalty record to see us meet Germany in the semi-finals, but despite Claudio Marchisio missing their second penalty, poor efforts from Young and Ashley Cole meant Italy were facing the Germans.

If we're being honest, despite a spirited battle from the English back line, it was a much deserved victory for Italy, evidenced by the performance of Andrea Pirlo, who was an example of a player England very much needed during this tournament.

It is hard to deceiver whether or not we have progressed in these two years. It is a hard question to answer, because despite some poor results, we have looked a much more solid team, and a team under construction, as we begin to dispose some of the "Golden Generation".

But in my opinion, the biggest problem within English football delves much deeper than just the playing staff. For example, there are around 3,000 English coaches with a UEFA badge, which compared to Italy, Germany and Spain, is minuscule. Germany, as a comparison, have around 30,000, and Spain currently boast a number of approximately 24,000.

Until these kind of things change, nothing will. After their humiliation in the 2002 World Cup, Germany recognised what was needed in order to improve, and ten years on they are arguably the best international side at the European Championships. They brought through some superb talent, such as Mesut Ozil, Mario Gomez, Mats Hummels and Sami Khedira, and they were taught to play with more style.

The FA need to start to input a lot more money into the coaching side of the game, and move away from the traditional style of football. Nowadays in England, the main skills taught are defensively focused skills, compared to places like Spain and Germany, where children are taught how to pass the ball precisely and how to keep the ball under pressure.

Just look at the best teams in this country. Manchester City and United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea all play with a distinctive style which is a stark comparison to how the teams lower down in the table play, and it is not a coincidence that the majority of the more "stylish" footballers at these top clubs are from abroad.

In conclusion, it is clear what is needed to be done. Obviously, everyone is entitled to their own opinion but how can people deny that this is what is needed to help England progress into a major force capable of challenging any side on the International front? It has worked for Spain, Germany, Argentina and countless other clubs, and the change is needed now!

Employ more coaches, make football seem a more attractive prospect for those children who prefer to pick up a video game, and give Roy Hodgson the backing he needs, as with the right players he could well be the man to take us forward.

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(c) The Sky Blue View 2012

1 comment:

  1. Christ almighty, what a shockingly poor conclusion to come to about England's current positioning. Piece lacks thought, balance and any general substance.

    Highlight Young's poor tournament, mention Barry's absence - sounds right for a City blog. Take it you thought Milner was the stand-out performer?

    Come on guys, you're journos no? Couple of valid points but no expansion ,depth or creative writing flow.